When President Muhammadu Buhari met with Benin President Patrice Talon on the sidelines of the seventh Tokyo International Conference for African Development (TICAD7), in Yokohama, Japan in August, one of the things he told him was that Nigeria had had enough of the smuggling from the Benin end of the border.
Buhari had said: “Now that our people in the rural areas are going back to their farms, and the country has saved huge sums of money which would otherwise have been expended on importing rice using our scarce foreign reserves, we cannot allow smuggling of the product at such alarming proportions to continue.”
Nigeria’s land borders have remained partially and then fully closed since that time.
Let’s break down this border closure in five simple ways.
1...It’s a temporary policy
At least that is what Nigeria government officials have been saying.
In any case, apart from a few exceptions, no nation closes its border forever. The world is too much of a global village for that sorta protectionist stunt.
Besides, with Nigeria appending its signature to the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), it can’t shutter its walls against its neighbours for too long.
Buhari had said the limited closure of the country’s western border was effected to allow Nigeria’s security forces develop a strategy to curb smuggling from Benin.
The Comptroller-General of Customs, Col Hameed Ali (Rtd), has also just announced that the land borders will remain closed pending when Benin and other neighboring African countries stop taking Nigeria for a smuggling destination.
Ali had added that the closure would remain in place until neighbouring countries duly comply with the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) protocols on transit of goods.
So, yeah, this is only a temporary measure from Nigeria.
2..The air and seas remain open
Only land borders are affected for now. Meaning that you can still import items through Nigeria’s seaports and airports.
Ali says: “All goods for now are banned from being exported or imported through our land borders and that is to ensure that we have total control over what comes in.
“We are strategizing on how best the goods can be handled when we eventually get to the point where this operation will relax for the influx of goods.”
3..Blame it on the rice smugglers?
This policy took off because Nigeria wants indigenous rice farmers to make hay and reap the fruits of their labour, the government says.
Benin became one of the world’s top importers of rice because of its Nigerian market. Almost all of the rice it imported from Thailand, Indonesia etc found its way to Nigeria through the Seme border.
Ali says the move became necessary to protect Nigerians from all sorts of substandard imported items through the land borders.
This in a way is about curbing the smuggling of rice from Benin because the government wants Nigeria to be able to feed itself and encourage local production of a widely consumed staple.
4..Nigeria is securing the bag as well
Nigeria says it has made more money since it closed its land borders.
According to customs boss Ali: “What we have discovered is that most of those cargoes that used to go to Benin (Republic), shipped to Benin, and then discharged and smuggled into Nigeria, now that we have closed the border they are forced to bring their goods to either Apapa or Tin Can Island and we have to collect duty on them.
"If that would continue to us, it is a welcome situation. As a matter of fact, our revenue has not reduced, it is increasing as a result of closing the border."
Ali adds that customs has been making between N4.7 billion to N5.8 billion daily--more than the agency used to generate before the closure.
5..Benin's economy is really suffering from this
There have been reports of rotten tomatoes, vegetables and other goods on the Benin side of the border since the closure. All those goods used to find their way to Nigeria.
With a population of just 11 million, Benin's economy is hinged on trade with Nigeria.
Benin used to also serve as a prime destination for the diversion of Nigeria’s petrol by greedy marketers. Which explains why there are quite a lot of petrol stations around Benin’s border with Nigeria.
Benin is not the only nation affected by Nigeria’s decision to shut its land borders, however. Niger, Cameroon and Togo are also reeling from the effect of the policy.
The Nigerian government says as soon as these countries prove that they are willing and ready to curb smuggling, the borders will be reopened for legitimate business.